According to reports, the United Nations is on course to select its next Secretary-General in October. The process gained steam this week with an informal straw poll in the Security Council. The details of the "blind" straw poll reveal very little about how much support each of the current candidates really have. Instead, it was merely a way for candidates to learn which of the 15 Security Council members "encourage" them to go on, "discourage" them, or have "no opinion." While two candidates received more support than the other two, confidence in the currently announced candidates is low and speculation is high that others will be nominated over the next few months. It is unlikely that this week's straw poll will determine how the race will shape up. The most significant result may be for a candidate or two to withdraw quietly after being discouraged by the Security Council.
However, the straw poll is an opportunity for Security Council members to send a message about what they would like to see from the next Secretary-General. The United States should use this process to state clearly that candidates for Secretary-General must be committed to fundamental and far-reaching UN reform to make the organization more transparent, accountable, and effective.
The Next Secretary-General?
Politics makes strange bedfellows, and this is perhaps more true for the United Nations than elsewhere. The most overt evidence of political horse-trading involves the regional influence over the selection of the Secretary-General. In tacit acknowledgement of Asia's claim to the next Secretary-General, all four of the official candidates are Asian. Asia's claim is based on an informal and loosely followed tradition of rotating the Secretary-General position among different regions. Thus far, candidates from countries outside of the Asian regional group have been excluded from consideration, despite the fact that Eastern Europe is the only regional group that has never had a Secretary-General.
Politics also likely dominated, if less publicly, consideration of the four official candidates by the Security Council this week. All have been jetting around the world on public relations tours to secure high-level official endorsements, and all have personal strengths and weaknesses that will factor into the support they garner. Just as important, however, are international political dynamics and the concerns of the members of the Security Council. All four of the official candidates have widely reported negatives that may undermine support in the Security Council:
News reports indicate that, while Ban Ki-Moon and Shashi Tharoor led the UN Security Council's first straw poll to become the next Secretary-General, there is a "a general sense that none of the candidates were likely to succeed."
If the official candidates founder, other potential candidates include Afghanistan's former finance minister Ashraf Ghani; Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan; President Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia; former deputy prime minister and finance minister of Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim; current high commissioner of Pakistan to the United Kingdom and a former ambassador to the United States Maleeha Lodhi; former President of Poland Aleksander Kwasniewski; Singapore's former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong; and Administrator of the UN Development Programme Kemal Dervis of Turkey.
U.S. Priorities for the Next Secretary-General
How the U.S. will vote on the official candidates is unclear. Although President Bush's statements on July 10 indicate that the U.S. has acknowledged demands that the next Secretary-General be from Asia, it also seems clear that the U.S. will oppose candidates whom it considers unsuitable. Thus far, the U.S. appears unenthused about any of the four declared candidates, which may in part reflect its uncertainty about the commitment of the individual candidates to fundamental UN reform. Based on comments by U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, UN reform is a priority for the U.S. and will be a key factor in its decision whether to support or oppose a particular candidate.
The organization has major responsibilities. The UN employs over 9,000 people of all nationalities and spends $7 billion per year in the its regular and peacekeeping budgets-more than the 2004 gross domestic product of 72 UN member states. It runs 18 peacekeeping missions involving some 90,000 personnel. Some of these missions, including the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) established in Jerusalem in 1948 and the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) established in 1949, date back decades and are older than two-thirds of UN member states.
Unfortunately, the UN has often failed in these responsibilities, and recent, well-publicized scandals illustrate the many problems that continue to plague the world body. For instance, investigations found some 200 instances of alleged procurement mismanagement and fraud in peacekeeping operations. Additionally, bribes and kickbacks to the tune of $2 billion under the Iraqi Oil-for-Food program involved over 2,000 companies in nearly 70 countries.
The United Nations often makes decisions based more on political concerns than on the overall effectiveness of the organization. Seemingly benign changes in personnel and mandates are perceived as turf wars, slights, or assaults on obscure fiefdoms. These concerns led the G-77 to delay and block Secretary-General Annan's reform effort by requesting a series of reports from the Secretary-General on his proposals. Compounding the problem, the G-77 led an effort to approve a UN budget beyond the $950 million cap despite making little progress on UN reform this past June, thus removing a major incentive for reform. While the U.S. did not vote against the resolution, it disassociated itself from the consensus position.
The United States should make UN reform a paramount consideration for the next Secretary-General. President Bush missed an important opportunity recently when he left the drive for reform out of the list of qualities he seeks in the next Secretary-General. The next Secretary-General should, as the President pointed out, be someone who "wants to spread liberty and enhance the peace, do difficult things like confront tyranny, worry about the human condition, [and] blow the whistle on human rights violations,"but it is also critical that he or she is committed to battling fraud, improving UN oversight, and removing the bureaucratic detritus and defects that limit the UN's effectiveness.
The official candidates have presented their views on reform to the Security Council. Yet UN reform for these candidates may be inconsistent with what the U.S. envisions. To varying degrees, they have engaged in political maneuvering designed to attract support from a broad swath of the General Assembly and avoid controversial aspects of reform.
The failure of these candidates to lay out explicitly a reform agenda designed to improve UN effectiveness, oversight, and accountability and to forthrightly announce their intention to implement those reforms if they become Secretary-General should concern the U.S. Whoever takes over from Kofi Annan must be more than the chief cheerleader for the UN, an opportunistic diplomat, or a skillful orator. As John Bolton has noted,
The UN Charter describes the secretary-general as the UN's "chief administrative officer." He is not the president of the world. He is not a diplomat for all seasons.… He is the chief administrative officer. Nothing less than that, to be sure, but, with even greater certainty, nothing more.
As much as individuals, groups, and governments are eager to see the next Secretary-General champion various causes, the first priority and qualification for the next Secretary-General-and the only responsibility specifically assigned to the office in the UN Charter-is to be an effective chief administrative officer.Given the evident flaws of the organization, the first priority of a chief administrative officer must be to fight for fundamental reform of the organization.
Without reform to improve effectiveness and accountability, every UN activity-regardless of its merits or the capabilities of the next Secretary-General-will suffer. Unfortunately, the straw poll process will say little about how much emphasis the Council places on a candidate's ability to carry out substantive UN reform. It won't indicate what substantive expertise the Security Council members seek in the person who will inherit from Kofi Annan a massive and very troubled organization. The U.S. should request that the candidates publicly identify a reform agenda that they will pursue and should announce that a lack of commitment to reform will draw U.S. opposition. In addition, Washington should make it clear that failure to follow through on promises made by the eventual winner will influence the U.S. decision to support or oppose reelection five years hence.
Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, and Janice A. Smith is Special Assistant to the Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.